Rethinking Data Visualization Courses for Design Curriculums


As stated in the abstract, this presentation seeks to expand how we learn about data visualization beyond its technical aspects. It will highlight some of the unfortunate past in the field and promote current practitioners who identify as BIPOC. All of which is an attempt to humanize the data and decolonize the field for any aspiring designer who seeks to specialize in this field.


The design industry must come to terms with its problematic history and prejudices to make way for a better future that can do better than the previous generations. The presenter and participants in this session will not have all the answers, but we will do our part in decolonizing design, one classroom at a time.


Data visualization, in all of its rigor and depth, has always been an act of observing the world. As its tools and workflows become more accessible, the case for embracing the skillsets of visualizing data as part of the designer’s training is becoming stronger than ever before. And the ubiquity of charts and graphs as used for scientific, journalistic, and sometimes for entertainment purposes give data visualization an advantage to impart and explain critical and complex topics. However, it is also a field that is rooted under western-centric assumptions and even a history with its own prejudices. From ISOTYPE’s depiction of people of color that relies on cultural stereotypes to the lack of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) practitioners in the field of data visualization today, the issues of past and present must not be ignored by the design community. Looking forward, this presentation re-examines how data visualization is taught in design programs across higher education. Situated in the terrain of the ever-evolving digital technologies and design specializations, it is easy to be singularly focused on the technical and empirical aspects of visualization, but it is imperative for both current and future practitioners to also view this field through the lens of the humanities and social justice. Recognizing these challenges, this presentation will address the following questions: How can data/information visualization be decolonized and effectively used for public engagement that is inclusive? What skillsets are needed for current designers entering into such endeavors? And how do we prepare the next generation of designers to do likewise? This talk seeks to answer these questions not to establish a definite set of rules but to bring out the assumptions and issues behind graphic design, political and social activism, and data visualization for an initial discussion between academics and professionals in the field.